Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Arcola Theatre

Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Arcola Theatre

Published in Time Out, 12.11.2009

An eye for an eye may make the whole world blind, but fuzziness of vision is not an affliction suffered by director Mitchell Moreno. He handles Thomas Kyd’s original revenge tragedy with both care and flair, such that its knotty narrative untangles with a compelling brutality.

Following a war with Portugal, the repercussions of a soldier’s death ripple through the Spanish court. The similar dispatching of his romantic replacement Horatio (Hassan Dixon) sparks a chain of retaliatory violence that sees off disloyal servants, mothers and murderers before finally resulting in the suicides of grieving Bel’Imperia (Charlie Covell) and Hieronimo (Dominic Rowan).

Whittled down to a snappy two hours, there are echoes of Rupert Goold’s Macbeth in Moreno’s claustrophobic, contemporary staging. Helen Goddard’s bunker-like design invokes a similar bolted-up paranoia and there is the same sense of a very domestic violence, as upstanding suburbanites, unaccustomed to homicide, grapple to rationalize their primitive passions. The strong ensemble is well led by Dominic Rowan as the indignant Hieronimo, who becomes a square civil servant swallowing his revulsion with a single malt.

Crammed with sharp, potent images – bodies hanging like butchered meat and blood inching across tabletops – this Spanish Tragedy displays a savvy approach to its modernization, though Moreno does overplay his hand with a final play within a play too well-versed in post-dramatic theory to convince in context. Nonetheless, this is as clear and gripping a production of Kyd’s forgotten classic as you’re likely to find.

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